B.C. Lions slotback Geroy Simon (81), shown in this file photo holding up the Grey Cup, is just 67 yards shy of becoming the CFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press) B.C. Lions slotback Geroy Simon (81), shown in this file photo holding up the Grey Cup, is just 67 yards shy of becoming the CFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
There is a distinct difference between the haves and the have-nots in the CFL for 2012, especially in the west.
Here’s a rundown, and our picks (remember, I don’t own my own house). Please give us yours below, and make sure the wins across the league add up to 72.
1. B.C. Lions
2011 record: 11-7
(Our 2011 prediction: 12-6)
Since Week 8 of last season, the Lions have lost exactly once. Of all the stats to think about, that may be the most significant as it shows the 99th Grey Cup champs found what they needed to re-establish themselves as king of the jungle.
These Lions, with a new head tamer in Mike Benevides, will not go 16-2, but they have more than enough new blood to match with emerging talent and old cats to win this division again and make it to the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto.
Half the clubs in the CFL have new head coaches, but the difference in Vancouver is old Wally Buono hasn’t gone away, he’s merely generally managing upstairs in the office where he’ll always be available for the new guy to swap ideas with and get advice.
Travis Lulay (Grey Cup MVP, 2nd best stats in the league, etc.) returns at quarterback with a solid backup in Mike Reilly and yet another of those Wally finds in Tom DeMarco (save your emails, no QB should be called Thomas).
All purpose star Tim Brown (2,017 yards from all sources) is ready to go.
Big losses on defence are Solomon Elimimian, the middle linebacker who went south to the NFL (Adam Bighill takes over), plus iconic lineman Brent Johnson who retired. Aaron Hunt left for Montreal.
Keron Williams and Khalif Mitchell pick up the slack as six guys will rotate through the four DL spots.
Lin-J Shell and Byron Parker came in from Toronto to boost an already good secondary.
No slow start this year. They’ll hit the ground running and keep going.
2012 prediction: 13-5
2. Calgary Stampeders
2011 record: 11-7
(Our 2011 prediction: 12-6)
Henry Burris? Gone. Joffrey Reynolds? Gone. Ken-Yon Rambo? Gone. Geoff Tisdale? Gone.
You might think with a brand new sheriff, two deputies, schoolmarm, bartender and dance hall girl with a heart of gold, this 2012 cow town group would be in a bit of upheaval.
Not really. It’s actually been awful quiet out there in Calgary, where the big boss, John Hufnagel, has been retooling since about the middle of last season, making sure the White Stallions will be right in the race this time around.
The big question is Drew Tate, who took over from Burris as starting pivot in week 17 last year and played well. But 158 passes does not a CFL star make, even with a 63.9 per cent completion rate and a cool back story.
Tate looks like the real thing, but it’s going to be interesting to see how he does now the other clubs have enough film to work with. Kevin Glenn came in from Hamilton to be a more-than-adequate back-up.
It helps to have such a strong receiving unit with Arjei Franklin, Johnny Forzani, Anthony Parker, Jabari Arthur and Chris Bauman complimenting stars Nik Lewis and Romby Bryant.
If Jon Cornish stays healthy, it says here, he’s going to be a revelation at running back, replacing Reynolds. He got the job in week 13 and rumbled with it for a 7.3 yard average totalling 863 yards.
Cornish will challenge Montreal’s Brandon Whittaker for top rusher in the league this year and will be the first Canadian over 1,000 yards since Orville Lee, back in 1998.
Defensively, the Stamps were deep enough they could trade DB Tisdale out and cut Johnnie Dixon. Fred Bennett, in from the NFL, had two official (three actual) picks in exhibition, so he’s a great addition to play with Brandon Smith and the rest of the crew.
Juwan Simpson, Malik Jackson, Stanley Bryant, Joe Lobendahn in from Winnipeg (small injury to start the year) – the defence is going to be fine.
Keep an eye on Canadian Keenan MacDougall as he works his way into the backfield.
Stamps will be competitive all season long.
2012 prediction: 11-7
3. Edmonton Eskimos
2011 record: 11-7
(Our 2011 prediction: 4-14)
It’s Eric Tillman’s world and we’re all living in the other one.
That’s the general opinion out in Oil Country after QB Ricky Ray (one team, nine seasons, two Grey Cups) was traded by the GM to Toronto for Steven Jyles (five teams, no cups) as a way to keep enough money in the budget to make moves that can improve the Eskimos.
So we find out now if Tillman is A) Way smarter than the rest of us, or B) Dumber than a prairie dog who moves into an open lot with a “Future home of Walmart” sign on it.
Let’s assume for a moment that Jyles does a fine job. He’ll have Fred Stamps and Adarius Bowman, plus free agents Gregg Carr and Matt Carter to throw to, and that’s not a bad group.
Jerome Messam took his 1,057 yard rushing season south to the NFL, leaving an intriguing battle between Calvin McCarty, the guy who lost his job, and Hugh Charles, who was no longer needed in Saskatchewan.
The offensive line allowed a league-worst tie 46 sacks last season, and that’s not going to help if they can’t improve. First pick Austin Pasztor is trying his luck in the NFL.
Grant Shaw, part of the Ray trade, and the fabulously named Swayze Waters (imagine the headlines!) are still fighting for the kicking job, and either has to be better than last year’s awful effort by the departed Damon Duval.
Edmonton put an excellent defence out for head coach Kavis Reed, and that was the key reason for the big turnaround to 11 wins.
Rod Davis and Mark Restelli have gone, but there are great players everywhere, including DB Wheldon Brown, linebacker J.C. Sherritt and his new partner of just a week Clint Kent (what was Winnipeg thinking?).
Don “Donny O” Oramasionwu has joined Marcus Howard and Rashad Jeanty on the line. The latter is back after six years in the NFL.
The Eskimos will be in practically every game, but they aren’t going to win nearly as many.
2012 prediction: 7-11
4. Saskatchewan Roughriders
2011 record: 5-13
(Our 2011 prediction: 9-9)
Solid quarterback Darian Durant spent so much time watching last year’s debacle from his butt that GM Brendan “Untouchable” Taman set out to rebuild his offensive line.
There are five new faces starting there, with centre Dominic Picard (Toronto), guards Brendon LaBatte (Winnipeg) and Ben Heenan (first draft pick), and tackles Chris Patrick (Toronto) and Xavier Fulton (Edmonton).
If Durant can get some time, he’ll have strong receivers in Chris Getzlaf and Weston Dressler, plus Efrem Hill and the returning Rob Bagg, whose knee is now healed after missing last season.
Backup pivot is J.T. O’Sullivan, the former 49ers starter from the NFL.
Oh, there’s also a new coach. He’s Corey Chamblin, the former defensive coordinator from Hamilton, and his big problem is how to find someone to run the ball so all those guys above don’t spend 90 per cent of their time pass blocking – a recipe for disaster.
No run. No win.
Enter Kory Sheets, who came north from the NFL where he played six games for the 49ers three years ago. He can go over, around or through a tackler.
Chris Milo missed just one field goal in 22 tries last year after taking over the job.
You always worry when a GM says a part of the team is a work in progress. That’s what he called the defensive backfield. And the linebackers.
Odell Willis was voted out of Winnipeg and he’s in to play defensive end with Brent Hawkins (injured in 2011). Shomari Williams leads the linebackers. Tristan Jackson and Craig Butler key the backfield.
Taman says there’s going to be “some bumps and bruises” along the way.
Here’s some good news: This club will not go 0-10 against West rivals this season. They’ll beat Edmonton once.
2012 prediction: 4-14